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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Why have labour markets turned against young people?

Across many European countries, headline-grabbing increases in youth unemployment post recession mask deeper, structural problems that have seen young people's transitions from school-to-work become longer and riskier over the past few decades.

This appears to be associated with changes in the nature of jobs available to young people, and an increasing reluctance on the part of employers to hire and train school leavers. In the UK, the youth labour market then deteriorated further somewhere around 2004 - well before the current economic downturn - when youth unemployment began to rise. The factors behind this latest dip in young people's employment prospects are not well understood.

In the current context of high youth unemployment across Europe, the so-called 'dual system' countries, and particularly Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, have fared notably better than most. Germany's apprenticeship system creates structured pathways into work and responsible adulthood. This has been credited with protecting young people from increased competition, while youth unemployment has actually fallen since the financial crisis in 2008. Yet these countries also experienced increases in youth unemployment in the early 2000s.

The Institute for Public Policy Research and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung hosted a policy roundtable on youth unemployment on 5th December 2012, London, bringing together experts from the European and the UK policy and research community to explore youth unemployment in Europe in times of boom and bust. Chaired by Liam Byrne, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, the seminar explored the reasons behind the UK's structural unemployment problem, and look at how other European countries fared over the same period.